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The Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Work Through Toptal

The Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Work Through Toptal

Last updated: July 31, 2019
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Toptal is a platform that connects clients with top freelance talent in the fields of software engineering, financial modeling, graphic design, and product management. With a rigorous screening process to find the best talent, Toptal has worked with many of the world’s biggest companies.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the platform and highlight some of the companies that have worked with Toptal. We’ll also share the types of job that offer the most opportunities and walk you through the application process. Lastly, we’ll look at what freelancers are paid.

A Brief Guide to Toptal

Toptal advertises itself as an exclusive network of top freelance talent. They work with freelance developers, finance experts, product managers, and more. All freelancers are put through a four-to-six week vetting process to ensure that only the best talent is in the network.

Toptal was founded in 2010 by Taso Du Val and Breanden Beneschott. The name is a truncated form of the words “top talent,” and the company has remained committed to its moniker.

The co-founders maintain a complete virtual office — not only are freelancers remote workers, but the entire staff works remotely as well. While Toptal works with many companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the company is now headquartered in Budapest, Hungary. Why? Du Val and Beneschott believed they could find higher quality coders outside of the United States who were struggling to find full-time work.

Toptal originally focused purely on software development freelancers, but has since grown to offer financial modeling services, graphic design, and more.

The company offers clients a no-risk trial period, which allows companies to see how the freelancer (or team of freelancers) works. If clients aren’t happy they can move on or start the project with a new steam.

What Companies Work With Toptal?

Toptal has worked with many of the top companies in Silicon Valley and beyond. AirBNB, Pfizer, Hewlett Packard, and Shopify have all found talent through the platform.

While Toptal’s talent-matching process may be slower than a company like Upwork or Fiverr, which can pair you with a freelancer within hours (sometimes minutes), it’s still rather quick compared to a company’s usual hiring process.

If a company is looking for a full-time employee, it will probably be fine bringing on a recruiter, vetting candidates through LinkedIn, and taking the weeks (or months) needed to find high-quality candidates before finding the right person for the job. For a short-term project, however, Toptal can find qualified, vetted candidates much faster.

Types of Freelancers Toptal Wants

Toptal is always on the hunt for qualified professionals in a wide range of fields. They expect you to have significant experience — years, at the very least — in your field before joining their network of talent. While their list of freelance job types is often growing, the company focuses on the following job types for the most part.

Software Developers

Toptal built its business on finding the best freelance software engineers and connecting them with companies for short-term, and sometimes even long-term, projects. If you’re a coder, they’ll ask what coding languages you have experience in (Javascript, Python, etc.) and whether or not you specialize in front-end, back-end, or full-stack development.

Project Managers

Toptal specializes in executing individual projects for clients and offers full resources, including project management. If you’re a project manager, you’ll set dates, track progress, solve problems, and provide total logistical support to make sure a project is executed on time. While some companies may prefer that a freelancer work with an internal product manager, many will allow Toptal to run the entire project through an external team.

Financial Experts

Toptal used to focus on coding, but has expanded to offer financial modeling services to clients. Top-tier finance experts can run revenue projections, or evaluate the financial performance of a certain portfolio of a client’s business. If you’re a financial expert, you’ll be expected to have years of experience and a relevant degree.

Graphic Designers  

Working hand-in-hand with front-end developers, Toptal is often looking for experienced graphic designers to make sure completed projects not only work beautifully, but look beautiful as well. If you’re a designer, you should have a full portfolio of client work to be considered.

Becoming a Toptal Freelancer

If you have plenty of experience and are looking to enter the freelancing world, Toptal can be an excellent way to quickly get connected with a global network of clients. While the pay may not be as good as a rate you could negotiate directly with a client, Toptal can help you build a portfolio of freelance work and get you working on exciting projects for Fortune 500 companies.

The application process takes four to six weeks to complete. Toptal will not only look at your resume, but they’ll also evaluate your body of work, see where your skills lie, and work to identify the types of projects you can succeed on.

While the application process takes time, starting it is easy. To do so, simply head to the company’s website. In the top right corner you’ll see a link to “Apply as a Freelancer.” Click that.

Screenshot of how to apply to Toptal

On the next page, you’ll provide your specialty, name, email, and a password to access the site. This will create your account.

Screenshot of Toptal application form

From there it’s a three-step process to get verified as a freelancer. While the entire process is not publicly available — applicants have to sign an NDA — the website Dev.to had a writer go through the process to lay out exactly what happens in the screening.  Here’s what you can expect:

1. Screening Call

This will be an initial call with a Toptal employee to vet your experience and expertise. They’ll ask about your resume and what types of projects you’ve worked on in the past.

2. Challenges

After the screening call, you’ll receive a series of challenges that test your problem-solving and critical thinking skills. These tests are apparently difficult, but not impossible. They are designed to test your mental acuity and ability to handle tough problems in time-constrained situations. They also weed out people who would struggle to do the work required of Toptal freelancers.

3. Test Project

The last round of testing is a test project that Toptal uses to make sure you can work adequately in the field you specialize in. The article says this is the easiest of the steps, and is merely used as a final fail-safe to make sure the applicant can do the required work and didn’t game the system.

Once you’ve completed the test, sit tight and wait. You’ll be contacted if you’ve been accepted, and then you’ll wait for the projects to roll in.

How Much Will You Get Paid?

Computer screen with HTML code

Freelancers can expect to earn competitive rates working through Toptal. While it may not be what you could make directly with a client, the platform spares you the tasks of hustling for clients, invoicing, and collecting payments.

The hourly rate varies by project type and experience. According to reviews on Glassdoor, software engineers make between $33 and $66 hourly working on a project with the company. Project managers reportedly make roughly $43 an hour.

Again, this is strong, consistent pay that is very competitive in the field, especially compared to competitors like Upwork and Fiverr. (Those platforms allow freelancers to set rates, but many clients who use the site are happy to settle for cheaper options.) Toptal clients are looking for the best, and will pay for it.

The main question many freelancers have to ask is: Is it worth going through the Toptal application process or is that four- to six-week time period better spent trying to build a list of clients and marketing themselves? A hybrid approach may be best — using the network as a way to meet new clients and find freelance work, while still pursuing direct client relationships.

Finding Freelance Work

For freelancers who have years of experience in a given field, Toptal can be a great way to connect with clients, build a freelance portfolio, and work on exciting projects with major companies.

The application process is much more rigorous than competitors, but if you get through it, you can start to earn good money through a company that will take care of invoicing and payment collection. For many freelancers, that may be worth it even if it means making less money.

If you’re a coder, financial analyst, graphic designer, or product manager looking to launch a freelance career — or bolster one you’ve already launched — Toptal can be a great way to make that happen.

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